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What Do You Need to Know about Congestion Pricing?


Written by Jaymi Naciri
Wednesday, June 12, 2019

“Live in the city,” they said.” It’ll be great,” they said. And while that may be true for many reasons, traffic’s probably not one of them.

Soon, if you dare get behind the wheel of a car in a city like Manhattan, congestion is about to get a little worse. Not necessarily because of more cars, mind you, but more expense.

Let us explain.

New York City is on its way to imposing congestion pricing, which will make it more expensive to drive within the designated hot zone—Manhattan south of Central Park.

“New York will likely become the first major city in the U.S. to implement a charge for motorists entering its most traffic-clogged streets,” said National Public Radio (NPR). The plan? To reduce gridlock while generating revenue for the city's stressed transit system.”

The deal has been approved by lawmakers in New York, however, the exact cost to motorists has not been finalized. What has been announced is that “new tolls are slated to go into effect in 2021,” said NPR. The tolling is expected to generate $15 billion, dedicated to funding the MTA, New York's transit authority.”

Around the world

Notice that NPR said New York is the first major “American” city. That’s because congestion pricing has proven successful in other key cities around the world. “New York City is set to become the first American metropolis that seeks to ease traffic congestion, cut pollution and boost mass transit by charging motorists a hefty toll for the privilege of driving into its most crammed areas,” said USA Today. “So can it work? If the experience of other cities around the world that have tried it is any indication, the answer appears to be yes. London, Singapore and Stockholm have all reported that ‘congestion pricing’ systems similar to the one now being planned for Manhattan led to initial reductions in traffic and improvements in air quality, while creating a steady stream of revenue to support public transit and other infrastructure.”

Back on U.S. shores, New York may be first, but the city is not the only spot considering this type of toll.

Los Angeles is weighing its own similar plan. “A new study looked at a so-called congestion pricing proposal to charge a $4 fee during rush hour for drivers who enter one of the region’s most gridlocked corners: the space between two intersecting freeways in western Los Angeles and eastern Santa Monica,” said Governing. “The money raised from the fee would be used to improve transit options and to subsidize access to the area for low-income drivers.”

A study conducted by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) “estimates that incoming traffic to the tolled area would drop by 19 percent during rush hour periods. Transit trips would increase by 9 percent during peak hours, while the number of people biking and walking would increase by 7 percent. Travel times and greenhouse gas emissions would both drop by about 20 percent.”

San Francisco has been looking into congestion pricing for about a decade, with no formal plans in place (but a serious eye on what's happening in NYC), and heavily-congested Seattle also recently announced plans to explore its options when it comes to reducing traffic in the city.

“Last year, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan directed the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to study congestion pricing—most simply, targeted tolls to reduce car traffic on city streets,” said Curbed. “Last week, SDOT released its initial findings on congestion pricing, giving a little bit of a better view of how it could work in Seattle. The big takeaways, according to SDOT: It would likely reduce the city’s carbon emissions, and it would have to come with heavy investment in transit.”



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